A Trip To “Cedar Rapids”

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

In an attempt to capitalize off his success in “The Office” and “The Hangover,” Ed Helms stars in the film “Cedar Rapids,” directed by Miguel Arteta (“Youth In Revolt”).

Helms takes on the role of Tim Lippe, an innocent insurance agent who has spent his entire life in the fictional town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin, completely happy with his job, satisfying his boss (Stephen Root) and being “pre-engaged” to his seventh grade teacher, a role in which Sigourney Weaver is perfectly casted. However, he is suddenly handed the task of saving Brown Star Insurance in a cutthroat insurance convention in order to win the coveted Two Diamonds Award in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Prior to leaving for Cedar Rapids, Lippe is told by his boss to avoid one Dean Ziegler, played by John C. Reilly (“Talladega Nights”), for obscure reasons.

It’s difficult not to find similarities between Helms’s character from “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids,” as they both are workaholics trying to be the honest hardworking individual that they were told to be. That is, of course, until they have the chance see the world outside and decide to cut loose, which leads to a series of bad decisions.

Helms shines as the country mouse arriving with wide eyes and a childlike smile in the big show that is Cedar Rapids, which he compares to Barbados at one point. Throughout the film, Lippe is faced with many moments of temptation and moral dilemmas that showcase the death of his innocence by way of experimenting with drugs and sleeping with a married woman the first night they meet. But Lippe also shows the evolution of his character that is somehow able to both lose and discover himself over the course of one weekend as we learn his personal silver lining belief that insurance agents get people’s lives back on track after trouble.

After this movie, it is quite possible that Ed Helms will forever be typecasted as some kind of innocent, good natured character in movies that show him completely letting loose because everyone else around him seems to be doing it and then finding his way out of trouble. Ultimately, Helms’s style of acting is better suited for television and needs some more experience before he takes on another leading role.

Reilly’s character serves as the complete antithesis of Helms, which Reilly creates perfectly. His ability to sound drunk while sober makes the delivery of his lines all the more comedic. But his character is hardly multi-dimensional and his primary purpose is simply to be the typical obnoxious, sex-crazed stranger that takes the protagonist down the road of temptation.
I was worried that including Reilly in the film would mean that he would be tasked with carrying the film’s humor. However, Reilly does not steal the spotlight from Helms, as Arteta and writer Phil Johnston ensure that the audience is laughing more when Helms is onscreen than Reilly through many shots that showcase Helms’s reactions along with set pieces that feature Lippe living the high life of Iowa.

“Cedar Rapids” is marketed as a crass comedy with the likes of “40 Year Old Virgin” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but this is a movie that actually deals with many issues such as achieving one’s true dreams or doing what is morally correct.

“Cedar Rapids” is a feel-good comedy that satirizes middle class America where people sometimes give up on their hopes and settle for the five to nine jobs that lead them nowhere, along with the type of people that exploit the idea of being somewhere outside of their normal residence in order to assume new personalities and indulge in their fantasies of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Despite its R rating, the film is an incredibly tame R-rated movie, which could be due to its short 86-minute running time — it seems as though the writers initially were shooting for a PG-13 rating, then decided to place one too many F-words.

“Cedar Rapids” also stars Anne Heche, Isiha Whitlock, Jr. and Kurtwood Smith, and opens in limited theaters Feb. 11. Special thanks to Francisco Correa, ASUCI Films Commissioner, for coordinating the advanced screening on Feb. 10.

Rating: 3/5 Stars